imes have changed since the Founders of our nation and our states penned their constitutions. So today there is a growing movement to add specific protections to what many of us assumed to be among our inalienable rights: the right to hunt, fish, and trap.
There are more than 38 million outdoor sportsmen in the U.S. According to a recently released report from the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, anglers and hunters spend $70 billion a year. Nonetheless, outdoor sportsmen increasingly find their sports threatened. Shrinking wild acreage and difficulty in gaining access to suitable recreational lands and waters are impediments for many hunters and fishermen. Increasingly complex fish and game regulations are an additional discouragement.
On top of that, opposition from animal-rights groups who consider hunting, fishing, and trapping cruel and inhumane is becoming quite an obstacle. Some opponents of laws protecting the right to hunt and fish include: The Eastern Canada Chapter of the Sierra Club, The Humane Society of the U.S., the American Humane Association (which has transformed from pro- to anti-hunting), and the Committee to Abolish Sport Hunting.
It would seem that establishing, or reestablishing, the right to hunt, fish, and trap is one way to shore up outdoor sports. Since 1996, six states Virginia, North Dakota, Minnesota, Alabama, California, Rhode Island, and Vermont have amended their constitutions to protect the right to hunt and fish.
According to Rick Story, vice president of the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance, each of these provisions is virtually identical and troublesome. They state that "outdoor sports are intrinsically good and should be continued for all time in accordance with law and regulation." But Story cautions that such protections while commendable in intent may not be properly executed.
In particular, he says the phrase "in accordance with law and regulation" is a problem. The phrase was inserted into these laws at the request of state resource management agencies to insure that they would have the power to restrict or curtail a type of hunting or fishing. The problem is that by adding this phrase into the laws, according to Story, "the language guts the intent of the original proposal." And it leaves the door open for animal-rights activists to get new laws created by the legislature or through referendums that could outlaw hunting and fishing.
In at least 13 other states including Michigan, South Carolina, Alaska, Texas, Georgia, Wisconsin, Idaho, and Florida there are movements underway to enact laws protecting the right to hunt, fish, and trap. Similar efforts are underway in Canada. For those states and provinces that might want to develop their own sportsmen's protections, Story says attorneys for the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance have come up with more effective wording:
In addition to various state actions, on October 10, Rep. Saxby Chambliss (elected to the Senate on Nov.5) introduced H.R. 5612, the Hunting Heritage Protection Act. The bill, which has a number of cosponsors, recognizes the value of hunting to the American people and the economy and directs federal agencies to support, promote, and enhance recreational-hunting opportunities.
A key element of the bill is a stipulation for "no net loss of hunting" opportunities. Under this provision, the government is directed to maintain, at the minimum, current levels of federal hunting lands to be open for sportsmen's use. If Congress or future administrations enact laws that close hunters out of federal lands, the same amount of land would have to be redesignated to provide equal hunting opportunities, or newly established lands would have to be created.
Story encourages sportsmen to contact their congressmen and ask them to support H.R. 5612. "Remind them that sportsmen are America's number one conservationists and their tax dollars have generated billions of dollars for wildlife conservation, research, and management," he says. To find your congressman, call 202-224-3121, or go to the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance homepage and use the Legislative Action Center.
Swan is the Media Watch columnist for North